Friday, December 31, 2010

San Francisco

This will be the first of two successive blog entries that I wrote a few days after the fact. Limited internet access—but also the need to live before blogging—are to blame for the somewhat delayed posting. Oh well; it used to be that news from the New World wouldn’t arrive until three months later.

With Kit and Kai leading the way in the sporty Saturn and moi trying to stay on their tail, we left Santa Rosa on Wednesday morning, heading for The City. See, Kai, I’m teachable. The sun was out, I listened to Baaba Maal and Baden Powell on the iPod linked to the Fusion’s stereo, and life was good. Memories welled up: The embassy Suites in San Rafael, the Sausalito exit to the Heath ceramics outlet, the Golden Gate overlook. Everything is fraught with memories, because Judy and I did so much, much more than anybody can ever hope to do together in a normal married life. All good. No worries.
Seeing the towers of the Golden Gate bridge appear over Marin’s last rises is magical. You folks know that I’m not the sentimental guy, but there’s something very American about that sight. If you’ve never been there, go. I wish I could have pulled off the highway for the right photo, but no such luck.

So we paid our exorbitant toll ($6 to enter the city of earthquakes) and immediately veered west. Maybe you can sense the vicious 30+-mph gale that was tugging on me, standing there on some golf course in Land’s End state park. Damn, the wind was so hard it blew pine cones and branches off the trees and on our cars. So on we went, down to one of Kai’s (many!) favorite watering holes, the Beach Chalet at the very western end of Golden Gate Park. Before the obligatory IPA I had to walk on the beach, getting tussled and wondering how nutty (and exhilarating) it must be to kite surf like these dudes. Way too damn cold for me, and my shoulder would look as if Grendel had gotten a hold of it.

We left my car and pooled toward Fisherman’s Wharf. Good thing that Kai has many favorite places, and this one even presented a teachable historical moment for a German kid who spent the summers of ’68 and ’69 elsewhere: the Toronado in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. Look at those houses, and look at the beer menu.  Of the entire trip (and I can say that now since I am blogging from the SMF-DFW bound plane), the Moonshine Bombay by Boat cask-conditioned brew was the absolutely freaking best! My gosh, what a beer! And $3 for a pint, during Happy Hour!

Down we went to Fisherman’s Wharf, where we had a bread bowl of clam chowder at Aliotos. Chowder and a Sam Adams for seven bucks—who can argue? The we met up with Kai’s rather comely sissy, the lovely Sara without an H, but the hours of wishful intrigue were cut down to minutes of meet-and-greet on the busy wharf. Ah, so it goes.  We went to some other semi-worthy taproom/pub, but Sara’s memory overshadowed its name. Que lastima.

Thank goodness for designated drivers who ferry you back to your point of original parking. (Turns out, there’s some law on the books that requires establishments on the beach to set aside a certain number of beach-access parking lots before they can open—thus I wasn’t towed!) By the time we got back to the Chalet, I was good enough to tail K&K down HWY 1 to Pacifica and beyond, where we hooked up with Kai’s older bro, Collin, and his gracious wife of many, many years, the gentle Carol. Another good day came to an end, among more Sierra Nevadas, a trip to the redwood hot tub, and many a tale about the early days out here on the coast, among the surfers and abalone hunters. Thank you, Collin, for embracing me that night (figuratively, thank goodness); that was a magical night in your tub while the rest of the world had decided to call it quits. Old friends, new friends, friends forever. And in case you're wondering what you see in the pic to the left, that's Collin's old abalone iron.


Adios 2010!

After two days of very limited internet access I just wanted to briefly send everyone my best wishes for 2011, now that 2010 is almost history. Thank goodness. May you have a healthy, happy, fulfilling 2011, and may our paths cross many times!

Look for more substantial blog entries with lots of photos in the next few days, covering my time in San Francisco and here on the coast, close to Pacifica.


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Im memoriam ...

The skies were crying today. I'm sure a low pressure system somewhere was the cause, but if you want to believe, Judy died three months ago tomorrow. With that in mind, I suggested going out to Armstrong Redwoods Natural State Preserve. If you have followed our travels over the past few years, you will know how much Judy loved being beneath the canopy of these giants. Little did she know five or six years ago that her chemo cocktails would be packed with juice from the cousins of the redwoods, the yew trees. She always felt happy here, and so I wanted to go back out to the old growth.

Armstrong is only 20 miles from Santa Rosa, just outside of the touristy township of Guerneville, on the Russian River. It is here that the annual Vineman 70.3 triathlon starts with an early-morning swim, and it was here that Judy and I fell in love with bike touring many, many years ago—oh, so many years before we ever dreamed of officiating these big events, or one of us being killed by cancer.

We'd always visited in the summer time, when it is warm and sunny and those humongous trees (over 300 feet tall!) would gently sway in the summer breeze. The creeks were dry creeks, with no hope of ever flowing again. But now it is winter, and the fog rolls in from the coast. The friendly Hobbiteen grove becomes a different animal—not menacing, but colder, more reserved, more graceful. Kai, his buddy John, and I traipsed through the dripping forest, sensing closeness and at least for me, a certain closure. Judy would hug some of these trees, feeling their rhythm; I tried to lay my hand on them but was not greeted in return. I didn't expect it. Actually, I think I would have freaked out had I felt anything but the satisfaction and the sorrow of being back. Still, nothing wrong with being open and listening....

The photos, taken with that silly little pocket camera of mine, don't do any justice to the majesty of the place. If you ever find yourself within 200 miles of this holy (and I mean it) site, go there. It is magical. This is better than the trilogy of the Lord of the Rings. The colors defy description.

Kai introduced us to another stand of old-growth forest, close to Occidental. The ambiance was different: Armstrong is sheltered in a small valley, secluded, intimate, hidden. The other stand is on a ridge that, with visibility, would almost overlook the Pacific. Oh, the fog, and the rain, and the exposure of this place were so different. Haunted is a better word than magical. Kai has placed three geo-cashes in this area, all of them connected by a middle-Earthian theme. As he says, placing the cache is more satisfying than finding one—especially when you place one inside of a 1,000+ year-old redwood.

And just a few meters away, cold, naked vines were gathering energy for next year's vintage.

A day wouldn't be a good day if one were to bypass the local establishments that cater to the itinerant traveler, providing libation and shelter from the rain. We found such at the Union Saloon, the entry annex of the Union Hotel, which dates back to the 1870s. Not a microbrewery, mind you, but fine beers were on tap, So while it rained cats, dogs, and hamsters, we sat snugly inside and nursed a pint or two. The local (???) fella in the duster and the matching fedora stumped us all, but we finally decided that he wasn't FBI (or worse—don't ask rehabilitated and recovered ex-con John), after all. Gotta love the California hinterlands.

So where did all this leave me in my post-traumatic head-scratchings? Easy: yearning to close things down at "The River," as Kai so innocently calls Russian River Brewing Company. My wonderful Liz loves the way I am enthralled by (good) beers and wines, but had she ever experienced (really, Liz, are you experienced, as Jimi Hendrix would have asked?) the bliss of a double IPA of the stature of Pliny the Elder, well, she'd understand. Some people call it the best beer in the world, some just the best IPA—whatever you want to call it, it is simply out of this world. Triple Js' pathetic wannabe beer in Lubbock has become essentially undrinkable; it is a travesty to call that crap beer. Come to RRBC, and you will rekindle your belief in brew-craft. And if you're lucky, you will run into Helmut, the Austrian local who freely quotes Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, and the rest of the philosophical pantheon in a place that serves up beers with the names such as Damnation, Salvation, and Rejection. Oh California!
Tomorrow we'll head for the Big City. How can we top this?


Monday, December 27, 2010

Sacramento and beyond

SMF—Sacramento International—has one of the least effective baggage-handling and public announcement systems I have experienced in a long time. It took me close to an hour to get my bag after flying in late on Christmas Day. And Dollar's rental car counter was even worse, but quite a bit more rude. Merry Christmas indeed.


But I eventually made it to my hotel from where I started up yesterday morning to first have a look at Sacramento and then drive over to Santa Rosa. It's easy to forget that with LA and San Francisco as the major cities it is actually Sacramento where Arnold hung his governor's hat for a long time. From what I saw in my two-hour stroll through Old Sacramento and the area around the capitol, I must say that I want to go back and spend more time. Sure, there was a fairly large number of homeless or transients, but maybe they were more apparent because of the low number of "regular" folks milling around on this Sunday morning after Christmas. But overall, I was taken by the architecture (look at Tower Bridge, built in the '30s in a style called Streamline Moderne) and tidy layout of the area around the capitol. The capitol itself—open to the public even on this post-holiday Sunday—houses some interesting historical exhibits, piquing my interest in learning more about the wars with Spain and the Philippines just a little more than 110 years ago. Old Sacramento may be a little Tombstone, AZ, like, but there is more history than touristy fluff that exudes the waterfront and the old buildings. I definitely will have to come back to  visit the California State Railroad Museum.

On the way to Santa Rosa I stopped in the town of Sonoma, where Judy and I had spent a little bit of time and I had bought her a serving tray in a small artsy store. I wanted to revisit that store, just to make sure I was OK. I was. Another whiff of the past was a visit to the Lisa Kristine gallery, which we had visited on our last visit to Santa Fe and which had been relocated to Sonoma. If you haven't seen Kristine's astonishing photos and prints, do so. All those memories had made me thirsty, and I stopped into the Highway 12 tasting room for a nice complimentary tasting, which resulted in my picking up a couple of bottles. Life as a tourist is sweet.

So, finally I made it to Santa Rosa and my friends Kai and Kit, where I'll be hanging out for a few days. Kai and I walked five minutes to the coolest Whole Foods store in the Delta Quadrant: They have an on-site taproom with something like 10 superb local beers. Oh my, I was in heaven!


Saturday, December 25, 2010

Wishing all of you a Merry Christmas 2010

Dear Friends around the world,

May this Holiday find you happy, with friends or family, healthy, and whatever prosperous and successful may mean to you personally.

Starting this blog on this particular day has maybe some far-fetched significance, at least for me: It is the start of something new. I have been sending e-mail updates regarding my whereabouts and peregrinations to some of you since that unhappy September 29, and your response has been very positive. Still, I always feel a bit like an intruder when I send you an e-mail—maybe you don't want to hear from me just then.

With this blog, I want to put the decision whether to participate in my life in your hands, not mine. It is easy to subscribe to this blog so there'll be an alert in your inbox that a new post has gone up. It's up to you to visit.

Uploading pictures (and many have asked for more pics) will be much easier, and your inbox won't get cluttered with megabytes of JPGs.

But maybe most important, this blog will allow me to go back in time and look upon where I was one month, one year, maybe longer ago. I think it can take on the role of a journal. Judy's blog certainly allowed us both (and now just me) to reflect on all that happened in those two cancerous years. It still has meaning, and will tomorrow. Maybe this blog can have some meaning, too. We will see how it will evolve and grow and what direction it will take.

So, that's my little Christmas present to you, if you so want. Come visit occasionally, or subscribe, or simply ignore it—whatever you may wish. It's Christmas, after all.


Thanks, Kai, for "enhancing" Rudolph!